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Monday, March 16, 2015

Melaka to Muar: A culinary trip down memory lane






Melaka to Muar: A culinary trip down memory lane



By Wan Chwee Seng


As soon as I heard the musical chimes of the phone's alarm,  I remembered , and  a sense of excitement tinged with apprehension swept over me. I felt like a school boy who was about to meet his new teacher and classmates.  But that Saturday morning of 18th October 2014,  I was not beginning a new school term, but meeting  some former students and teachers from St. David's High School,( SDHS ) Melaka.

Earlier in the week, my former student Hanafi , had sent an sms telling me that he and some of his friends from SDHS Whatsapp Group , were planning a day trip to Muar and inquired if my wife and I were free to join them.


The morning dawned bright and clear,  but the expected tweets of an early bird, not from my garden, but from the bed-side table with  the familiar greetings ' Good morning , everyone. It is a fine morning, ' were strangely missing. 


' Well, my ex-colleague , Peter, too must be busy getting ready for the trip', I thought to myself.


At 6.45 am , the ever obliging and reliable Miss Gan , another ex-colleague from SDHS  and MPPM , arrived promptly at our gate to fetch  us and  another ex-colleague, Audrey, for  our first rendezvous at Sekolah Menengah Tinggi St. David. 



Chui Peng arrived promptly at the house



As the car made its slow ascent up the gentle gradient, in the grey light of dawn, I could see Peter, Jee, and Boon Khoo waiting outside the school gate. 


A tall  striking figure with a lady by his side stood out among the group of ex-teachers. I instantly recognised, Hanafi, from the photo he had posted  earlier on the Whatsapp.


The moment I stepped out of the car, he approached  me.


"Sir," he said and gave me a big hug.


Time paused for a moment, as we stood beside the old classroom where I taught him some  forty years ago.



Overwhelmed with emotion and stricken with nostalgia , I stood there speechless, all  words and thoughts, suddenly, entangled. 


Our first rendezvous at Sek. Menengah Tinggi St. David
Sitting from L to R; Siew Leng, Peter Yong, Gan Chui Peng,
C.S. Wan, Audrey Lim
Standing L to R: Teo Boon Khoo, Jee Kim Joon, Pn. Hanafi, Hanafi.


Merli, who had flown in earlier from Houston on a business trip, or perhaps more appropriately on a  'business-cum-makan' trip, soon arrived to join us for the culinary trip. Fadzil with his wife and son arrived shortly  in another car. After some discussion it was decided that it would be more convenient if we went in three cars. Hanafi led the way while Jee and Merli followed closely behind. 




Merli, the man from Texas,, at the driving wheel
The car was soon humming its way along the new Lebuh AMJ towards  the Petronas station in Semabok where Kian Chye ( KC) was waiting to join us. Along the way  Hanafi regaled us with some interesting incidents during his flying days and I felt glad that he was 'piloting' us on solid ground. 



Hanafi 'piloting' us towards our second rendezvous

We soon arrived at our second rendezvous and as the car eased into the station, I could see a building with the prominent KFC sign, but there was no sign of KC. However, Hanafi, like a true soldier was able to zoom in on his target. Having picked our new passenger and learning that Rashid and Roslan were able to find their own way to our destination, we too headed for Muar.


The KFC outlet, next to the Semabok Petronas station

I remember in the 1990s when we traversed the old road to Muar we could get a panoramic view of vast verdant paddy fields dotted with islands of coconut groves under which nestled attap huts. I trained my Ipad at the fleeting landscape, hoping to capture the rustic scene. However, all that greeted my eyes were brick buildings and untended paddy fields.
"There are no more paddy fields, " I said to no one in particular.
"I think there are some paddy fields in Merlimau. We'll take the old road on our way back, " Hanafi answered.
A bridge soon came into view and we knew we had arrived in Muar. 


The bridge across the Muar River

 As the car made its way through the early morning traffic, Hanafi drew our attention to a row of shops. We noticed along the five-foot-ways satay sellers had set up their stalls and were busy fanning the skewered meat, neatly arranged on grilles over coal fire . It was rather a strange sight to see satay being sold so early in the morning as in Melaka the satay stalls only operate in the late evening or night. 
Hanafi informed us we were going to another place with a more conducive environment and ample parking space.
After a short drive, we arrived at our destination. As I made my way gingerly towards a long table, Roslan, my ex-student whom I had met on a few occasions greeted me. Beside him stood a young man with distinguished-looking hair and sporting a Manchester United soccer jersey.
"I don't think you can remember me," he said, as he approached  me. 
I peered forward, examining and trying hard to recall a face I had not seen for more than three decades.
"You're Razif," I said, recalling the exemplary pupil with the artistic talent."


From L to R: Merli, Roslan, Razif

"Yes," he said, surprised that I could still remember him after all these years.
"I still have the painting you gave me," I told him.



The oil painting by Razif



  We soon joined the others at the long table. From a nearby stall skewered meat sizzled over coal fire, while a table fan sent acrid smoke and the mouth-watering aroma of barbecued meat into the breezy morning air.



A smiling satay seller grilling satay over coal fire

       
While waiting for the satay to be grilled, we took the opportunity to reminisce and share our experiences during our days at St. David's High School (SDHS), Melaka and the subject of discipline  invariably crept into our conversation.




Reminiscing and sharing our experiences






"They promised us a foodie trail, but all we have is cucumber and rice cubes.
Should have stayed at home."
Caption courtesy of Merli




"Ini sudah tak betul. Usually the satay comes before the ketupat."
Caption courtesy of Deva


Merli vividly recalled his first day at SDHS, after his transfer from SFI. 
" We were in the midst of a Maths lesson and I was sitting at the window, enjoying the cool breeze and taking in the view below me. Suddenly, a dark shadow loomed over me and I felt a hand pelting my back. During recess, one of my new classmates approached me and said, " Wow! The Maths teacher really likes you. I saw him patting you all over the body."
"The morning's incident really straightened me up and I am really grateful to my Maths teacher."

Rashid then recounted his first day at SDHS.
" Accompanied by my uncle, an officer from the Ministry of Education, I walked into the Principal's office with a dignified countenance and air of importance. After the initial exchange of pleasantries and a short conversation we took our leave. As we were about to leave the office, my uncle turned to the Principal and eyeing me, said,
" Make sure to discipline him, if he misbehave."



"I remember you, pinching me!"
"Who! Me?"
"No, no, the Geography teacher"


From the other seats, others were busy poring over old school photographs, trying hard to recall the names of once young familiar faces.
" Can you recognise this guy/"



A savoury aroma tingled our nostrils and all conversations ceased momentarily, as waiters began placing freshly-grilled satay on our table. 





We were soon occupied in dipping the grilled meat, complemented with ketupat (pressed rice cakes ) and sliced cucumbers into the spicy peanut sauce, and slowly savouring the delectable fare.





Time to concentrate on our food








"I need a break"


After a full and satisfied breakfast, Hanafi announced that we would adjourn to the Tanjung Emas esplanade before proceeding to Parit Jawa for our 'asam pedas' lunch.




"Waaaah! Manyak kenyang lah. Hope still have space for the 'asam pedas'. "





"Cikgu, kita sudah short RM 34.55.
Nevermind, cikgu basuh pinggan, saya angkat pinggan."
Caption and photo courtesy of Hanafi


Walking sticks clicked against hard concrete, as Peter and I, accompanied with Rashid, strolled gently along the slippery pavement. The sight of a bench was an irresistible invitation and so we stopped to rest our weary legs.



Taking a breather
From Lto R: Peter, Rashid, Wan


Out on the wide expanse of water, boats skimmed its surface, leaving white foams in its wake while in the distance the iconic Sultan Ibrahim Jamek Mosque shimmered in the late morning sunlight. 







The faint strains of music that emanated from under a tree beckoned us. When we reached the spot, we caught sight of Kian Chye with mobile phone and speaker in hand busy belting out an oldies while others joined in the sing along, oblivious to the few onlookers who were enjoying the free entertainment.  





"Eh, what are they listening to?":
" I think there is a 'tukang ubat' telling story about her wonder cure."





K C in his element; singing and rocking to the music



Just before we left the place for Parit Jawa, Hanafi thanked all the participants for making the trip a success and we were pleasantly surprised when he presented each teacher with a backpack. 




" Beg ini untuk cikgu, tapi sorry tak ada name tag."
"Ah, dia maseh ingat fasal cubit itu"


Perhaps, the backpack is a fitting memento of our trip. My backpack  will not remain just an empty shell , but will always be filled to the brim with memories; memories of delicious food and the kindness and gratitude of students who in spite of their social status and achievements are full of humility.  





One for the album. A group photo of the participants.
From L to R: Boon Khoo, Kian Chye, Peter Yong, Audrey Lim, C P Gan, Siew Leng,
C S Wan, K J Jee, Fadzil, Rashid, Razif, Roslan, Hanafi, Merli





Another photo for the album


Before proceeding to Parit Jawa we made a brief stop at a shop which we were told was popular for their coffee powder.While Melakans are proud of their Aik Cheong and Sin Sing coffee powder, the residents of Muar too can boast of their very own brand of 434 coffee powder.


The shop selling Muar 434 coffee powder
'Tak mahu beli kopi tak apa. Balik nanti beli tiga ekor'




Leaving behind the rush-hour traffic, we took a leisurely drive along the quiet road to Parit Jawa.


Leaving Muar town 




As the car rolled into the parking lot and came to a halt next to the the Muar river, we could see fishermen busy unloading their catch.



Fishermen unloading their catch


The ' asam pedas' outlet was already packed with lunch-hour crowd.

Hanafi volunteered his service, displaying his balancing skill,
perhaps acquired during his stint in the army. 



" Masa Air Force, ragging pun tak macam ini" ..
Caption contributed by Deva
"Major, the nasi cepat sikit lah! Perut sudah lapar."
Caption contributed by Ghwee Kok Thai


I noticed the gravy of the 'asam pedas' served here was relatively light compared to the one in Melaka. Perhaps, the light gravy was meant to complement and enhance the taste of the juicy and fresh fish.


The mouth-watering 'asam pedas' at Parit Jawa




After a very satisfying meal, we were surprised to find out that the cost of the food ( asam pedas, rice, omelette, vegetables, preserved eggs ) inclusive of drinks, amounted to only RM 200+.

We made another brief stop at a roadside stall before proceeding home.



"Now, what shall I get for my wife?"





"Sini ada jual volley ball tak?"



Hanafi was soon calling attention to the small towns that we passed through.
"This is Sungai Rambai."



Sungai Rambai town


"Ahead is Merlimau."
"This is Telok Mas where my dad used to work as a warden at the Henry Gurney Boys' School."
'Next is Alai."

The sight  brought back fond memories of my days at MPPM, Melaka, when we used to pass through these towns on our way to visit the teacher trainees during their practical teaching. I wonder how long these small towns with many pre-war shophouses will remain before they are demolished and everything reduced to a memory. 

Safely back at Sekolah Menengah Tinggi, St. David some of us posed for a photo to be stored in our albums and remind us of the memorable trip, a culinary trip that not only gave us an opportunity to savour Muar's culinary delight, but to reconnect with former students and enabled us to renew and foster the bonds of friendship with our ex-colleagues. 



Time to say goodbye until we meet again


Writer's Notes: 
My wife and I wish to express our heartfelt thanks to Hanafi for organising this trip. A big thank you to all the members of the  St. David's Group for your  company and generous contributions. Our sincere thanks to all the other participants: SDHS ex-colleagues, Hanafi's and Fadzil's gracious wives and the ever helpful Fadzil's son. We enjoyed your company and appreciate your help and support. 
A special thank to Ben Hur Adler Chee, the administrator of our WhatsApp Group, for taking the initiative and effort to set up the group which has enabled many ex-teachers and ex-students to reconnect with each other. 
NB. Some of the captions in the photos are written in jest with no offence intended.